Supreme Court rules that UK Parliament must have a vote on triggering Article 50

[Photo: Pixabay - CC0]

The Supreme Court has ruled by a majority of eight to three that Parliament is constitutionally required to pass legislation to trigger Article 50, which will set in motion the process by which the UK leaves the European Union.

Lord Neuberger, the president of the supreme court, said in his summary of the decision that the government generally has a prerogative power to change treaties, but not if it will affect people’s rights, such as those acquired by the UK entering the EU, according to an article on The Guardian website.

“The change in the law required to implement the referendum’s outcome must be made in the only way permitted by the UK constitution, namely by legislation,” the judges said. “The Supreme Court holds that an act of parliament is required to authorise ministers to give notice of the decision of the UK to withdraw from the European Union.”

According to the court’s summary of its decision, three judges – Lords Reed, Carnwath and Hughes – felt the implementation of EU law in the UK was “inherently conditional on the application of the EU treaties to the UK, and therefore on the UK’s membership of the EU”. Since the European Communities Act of 1972, which took Britain into the EU, “does not impose any requirement or manifest any intention” as regards the UK’s membership, the three argued, it could not be said to affect the crown’s exercise of its prerogative powers in that respect.

Lord Carnwath also argued that the triggering of article 50 “will not itself change any laws or affect any rights, but is merely the start of an essentially political process of negotiating and decision-making”. The government will be accountable to parliament for those negotiations throughout, and the whole process cannot be completed without parliament enacting primary legislation in some form, he felt – so parliament, in effect, would be sovereign in any event.

Direct Access Barrister - myBarrister